When it became feasible to record news reports and interviews on the spot with a smartphone and a decent mic, news hounds everywhere welcomed the change.
Gone were the weighty “portable” recording deck and its uncomfortable shoulder strap. Also gone was the risk of losing the story from a badly-placed impact to the DAT or MD deck, causing mistracking. Beautiful, pristine digital audio could be captured on a portable device they were already carrying and emailed as a file back to the studio.
Then came the reality. Spotty 4G service meant no delivery. Worse: losing, dropping or otherwise damaging said smartphone meant the recording was toast. And the user was out an average of $500 to replace the phone. Life, contacts, passwords and social interaction were all on hold until repairs or a replacement was purchased.
Portable Flash card recorders have been a suitable alternative for over a decade, but who needs X-Y stereo miking for a press conference? Or all those editing buttons, file format choices and input selectors getting in the way? When interviewing the FBI agent at the scene, one incorrect menu selection means not bringing the story home.
What radio needs is something small, inexpensive and truly portable that just records from a mono microphone with a minimum of menu madness. Just hit a button and Go!
Well, Tascam heard you. Say hello to the DR-10X: a tiny recorder suited to radio ENG and single-mic interviewing. It snaps directly to the XLR connector on your microphone, records to a MicroSD or SDHC card, and gives you back the freedom to pack light and move fast when the job demands it.
Four buttons, a power switch and volume up/down buttons are all there is to navigate. The minuscule display is only one line tall, but includes everything at a glance: level meter, file name, battery life and elapsed time. And without any moving parts, battery demands are minimal — one AAA battery drives the recorder.
A two-position power switch gets you rolling. Slide the power switch backward for one second and the recorder is on and in standby mode. Push forward for one second and recording begins. From a cold off position, a slide forward starts recording immediately with no intermediate steps. That’s the kind of nimble performance news reporters need in a recording device.
I tested my unit out with everyone’s favorite utility mic — the EV 635 — for its popularity as well as its quirks. Being an omnidirectional mic, voices need to be close-in to be heard over the din of whatever background noise is present. In our case, there is very loud construction on a 19-story building going on next door. Perfect test conditions.
First, it was a surprise to see the low levels at which the device records. Opening a file in Adobe Audition, I noted peaks only around –12 dBFS. This is not a slam by any means. This much headroom means those political candidates can scream into my mic as much as they want, and I’ll still bring home a clean recording.
Know why? The DR-10X has a clever feature called “dual rec mode” that automatically rolls a second background recording at a different level chosen by the user. If you have ever lost a primo interview because your record levels were too aggressive and the entire recording was one huge square wave, you will appreciate this feature to no end.
In fact, there are quite a few surprises under the two menu buttons, all of which are useful. A low-cut filter knocks out everything under 120 Hz for rumble-free recordings; a limiter keeps those loud politicians at bay; a mic gain selector helps match the mic to the recorder; and then there are the usual date/time and file name selectors that somehow even the best of us never seem to enter.
The DR10X records 24-bit/48 kHz WAV files. Long recordings can be a bit large, but they will be as crystal clear as you want them to be (as your mic can capture).
Some previous users have commented on noticeable noise when recording with the DR-10X. I have not noticed any worth mentioning. And on those low levels, gain makeup can be done in your audio editor of choice. In Audacity, for example, normalizing and applying “Dyson’s Compressor” resolved any level issues I had and made my interview recording pop.
Dyson’s Compressor is an LADSPA plug-in, available only in the Linux version of Audacity. Most any compressor plug-in would be suitable.
Remember the DR-10X is an audio recorder. You can’t email the file back to the studio as you can with a smartphone. But you can quickly offload the recording to a laptop or other portable digital device via USB to make your edits. When you think about it, other than “because I can,” why bring the entire studio into a high-risk situation when only a recording device is necessary?
Battery life depends on headphone use. Anywhere from 8 to 15 hours without the phones is typical, depending on battery type. Fortunately, AAA batteries are plentiful and cheap, compared to those weird proprietary batteries that came with portable DAT machines. Spares are easy to come by and carry.
Plug-on Micro Linear
+ Portable with no moving parts
+ Records to WAV file
+ Creates own safety recording
+ Uses common AAA cells
– Pricier than expected
– Really tiny buttons and display
MSRP: $279; Street: $180
For information, contact Tascam in California at (323) 726-0303 or visit tascam.com.
You can’t change the sample rate on the DR-10X, so you can’t really tweak how much material you can fit on a MicroSD card. So why not carry more than one card? It’s not like we all carried only one cassette in our go-kits back in the Stone Age.
Even though the DR-10X is designed to clip to a mic for on-the-go recording, nothing is stopping you from connecting it to the XLR output of a mixer for multiple-mic recording. Just watch the level coming out of the mixer and pad it down if you have to.
Optional equipment provided by the user should include one sharp fingernail and really good eyesight. The buttons and the display are really tiny.
Last, the manual describes the versions of Windows and Mac OS that “agree” with the DR-10X. I can state that it works quite satisfactorily under UbuntuStudio (Linux) as well, if you are so inclined.
At $279 list (around $180 street price), the DR-10X was a bit pricier than what I would have expected, especially when compared to the $100 DR-05, also from Tascam. But having said that, radio newsies, rejoice. You’ve got a great little recorder in the Tascam DR-10X.
Alan Peterson is production director for the Radio America Network, Arlington, Va., and oversees production of “Intelligent Medicine with Dr. Ronald Hoffman,” “The Pet Show with Warren Eckstein” and “Mom Talk Radio,” among other syndicated shows. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.